Putin’s Russia 16

I have been both snowed under and travelling like a madman lately, and therefore rather absent from this blog. Apologies.

The piece by me below appeared in The Mail on Sunday two days ago.

I would like to introduce it with the following thought. There are those who denounce any criticism of Russia, particularly over human rights, as a neo-con plot. That is plainly stupid.

On the blogosphere it is not hard to bump into the view that, on the international stage, anyone opposed to George Bush must be a good man, and any attack on anyone opposed to George Bush must be malicious. A much more probable scenario is that George Bush is a powerful and bad man, perhaps primus inter pares but nonetheless among many other powerful and bad men. Russia is in fact in the grip of vicious gangsters, ripping off the country with a freedom even the most ardent deregulatory neo-con in Washington could not conceive.

Investigative report: The Kremlin Killings


After a series of brutal murders of dissident journalists in Russia, Craig Murray, former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan, went to investigate.

His disturbing report reveals how deeply the cancer of criminality has infected Putin’s society

One Friday two months ago, Ivan Safronov, defence correspondent of the authoritative Kommersant newspaper in Moscow, made his way home from work.

After a mild winter, Moscow had turned cold in March and Safronov held a bag of groceries in one hand while keeping his coat closed against the snow with his other.

Arriving at the entrance to his grim Soviet-era apartment block, Safronov punched in the security code which opened the grey metal door at the entrance to the gloomy hallway.

So far this is a perfectly normal Moscow scene. But then ‘ and this is the official version of events ‘ Ivan Safronov apparently did something extraordinary.

He walked up the communal stairs, past his second-floor apartment to the top landing between the third and fourth floors.

Then, placing his groceries on the floor, he opened a window, climbed on to the sill and leapt to his death, becoming around the 160th (nobody can be certain of precise numbers) journalist to meet a violent end in post-communist Russia.

In the West, the cases of journalist Anna Politkovskaya, shot dead in her apartment block, and ex-KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko, poisoned by polonium in London last year, hit the headlines.

But in Russia, there was nothing exceptional about those killings. It’s long been understood that if you publish material that embarrasses or annoys those in power, you’re likely to come to a sticky end.

Continue reading


As always, the unedited original was rather better; I may post it if I can work out how to prevent its length taking over the entire page. A follow-up article will appear this Sunday.

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16 thoughts on “Putin’s Russia

  • Strategist

    Look forward to more from your Russia trip and reflections on the situation there today, Craig.

  • writeon

    I don't have much time for Putin or the system they are developing in Russia. Personally I'd prefer something else, but I don't live in Russia, so I suppose I think it's their business what kind of political/economic system they choose. Clearly this doesn't mean one shouldn't criticise Russian society and the direction it's moving in. But it's striking that Putin appears to be very popular in Russia at the same time his star is fading in the West. Most Russians have yearned for a strong leader who would stop Russia's decline and virtual collapse. Putin seems to have fulfilled this role.

    Obviously there are a whole range of things one could criticise in Russia. We all know what they are. But I think our negative attitude to Russia has other causes which don't have much to do with human rights or democracy.

    I think we liked Russia weak and on its knees. A vast country, full of raw materials and oil and gas, which was collapsing, was sliding towards third world status, and we like those kind of countries, they serve our interests.

    Our policy was to fully integrate Russia into the neoliberal economic system. Russia would become a client state, like most of third world countries. We wanted a regime in Russia that subordinated its national sovereignty to the dictates of foreign investors. Putin, however, seems to resist this plan. He's a Russian nationalist, and wants to pursue an independent path for economic development which puts Russian interests first. It's this independence that really makes him dangerous and why our attitude to Russia is changing.

  • Christian Lonnholm

    I am all for a diverce view on Russia. But to point an accusing finger towards Putin for each killing of a journalist is a little too simplistic. The fact is that there are plenty of dangerous fishes swimming in the Russian waters. As the example of the Boris Berezovsky sponsored killing of Paul Klebnikov proves.

    Worth remembering is that during Jeltsin – no one was able to do business in Russia without a "roof" – meaning the protection and services by any of the large competing maffia organisations. In short, everybody with money or power had a "roof". This is still somewhat true but there is nowday a second force to be counted on and that is the Secrete Police, FSB. Through a "divide and conquer"-strategy Putin and the FSB have successfully broken down a great part of the oligarcs total influence over Russian affairs. That Putin and the FSB today even can be considered being behind all and every event in the weak state is flattering for their ambitions but still far from true.

    The real danger is the demonisation of Russia that is mainly evident in the EU as they compete over the influence of countries in Eastern Europe. EU has efficiently pushed its trade wall for Russian export goods both high and close to the Russian boarders. The only thing we allow passing through it, is oil and gas – making Russia stagnate in the role as a raw material provider for Europe. Russian self image as an European Protector and the scorned lover of the EU, keeps them from dealing rationally with the Chinese. As Stiglitz pointed out when he was the top dog on World Bank – China and Russia have switched places in GDP rankning between 1990 and 2000. This proves too much for the Russian pride to swollow. But soon egnough, Europe might have a new Russian/Chino security alliance carving a line of mistrust within Europe's geographical borders. Pushed by both NATO expansion, the continued global arms build up, increased instability in the Middle East and Central Asia as scarse natural resourses fule dorment conflicts.

    So I am all for a more diverce look at Russia.

  • Craig


    Dictators are quite often popular. Hitler was, genuinely. Can you say the German people had the right to be Nazis? No, minority rights are important. Their absence defines a tyranny.

    Actually, Russia remains a neo-liberals dream. Putin has co-opted the Mafia, not abolished it, with the acceptance of one or two who would not offer unequivocal support.


    of course, Putin very probably had nothing to do personally with these murders. But I think the FSB were very probably involved, at local level.

  • writeon


    Are you saying that Putin is a dictator? I think this is harsh, considering he was democratically elected by a majority of Russians, and when he became president very few people in the west considered him a dictator. Personally I wouldn't have voted for him, but that hardly matters does it? I wouldn't have voted for Yeltsin either. If I was a Russian, and had to choose between Putin and Yeltsin, I'd vote for Putin. But it's an academic point.

    Hitler was popular. But not as popular as many people imagine. The Party was more popular than Hitler as an individual. Hitler never had a democratic majority of the German people behind him expressed as electoral votes. He was the leader of the largest party, but his party did not have a majority in the German parliament. Ironically, the Nazi party lost support in Germany's last democratic election and may well have been over the hill as a radical alternative movement, but we'll never know as Hitler was handed power and became dictator. As Hitler assumed the role of dictator he became "popular", but it's hard to gauge how popular he was in reality. What we do know is, that he wasn't all that popular among many party members after he became chancellor, as they thought he'd sold them out and abandoned the revolution. Especially in northern Germany the socialist wing of the Nazi Party despised and didn't trust Hitler further than they could throw him.

    I don't quite understand what you mean when you ask me the question "Can you say the German people had the right to be Nazi?" In a very abstract perspective, I do think the German people had the right to be Nazi. But it depends on how one defines; "right" "German people" and "Nazi". If we truly believe in democracy, the will of the people, individual rights, minority rights: then surely people/individuals have the "right" to hold unpleasant and extremist views, don't even Nazis have rights too, even though we don't agree with them? Personally, in theory and practice, I think individuals have the right to be hold such views, as long as they don't use violence to express them. I don't support tyranny even when it's directed at people with Nazi sympathies.

  • johnf

    I have no idea who murdered Politkovskaya – a great and courageous journalist – but I think its just as likely to have been someone like Berezovsky – simply because criminals like him have so much to gain – propaganda-wise – from such a murder – while Putin has so much to lose.

    On the Litvenenko case I again don't have the foggiest – but this turning of a thug and a nutcase – I believe he blamed 9/11 on Putin – into some sort of saint is bizarre.

    These criminals and oligarchs should not even be allowed in this country. And it is a sign of how intense and unbalanced the propaganda war against Russia is becoming that the main stream press (to say nothing of the government) gives so much time and credence to the fantasies they peddle.

  • Craig


    Yes, I am saying he is a dictator. There are undoubtedly popular dictators, who win elections. Mussolini is a good example.

    Putin is a dictator because he has brought all significant media under state control, eliminated opposition parties through legal rulings of courts which are completely non-independent, ended freedom of assembly and is intolerant of minority views.

    I really exasperated with people who excuse Putin because he is not Bush. You do not get nice people heading the KGB. Chechnya has many parallels with Iraq. Putin is now striving to prop up the ruthless regimes of Central Asia. How come that was wrong when Bushh was doing it, but it is excusable when Putin does it?

    I find the liberal left – of which I am part – completely exssperating. It is willing to excuse pretty well anything of anyone else as long as they oppose Bush. There is room for more than one bad man in the world.

  • NickW

    'I find the liberal left – of which I am part – completely exssperating. It is willing to excuse pretty well anything of anyone else as long as they oppose Bush. There is room for more than one bad man in the world.'

    Craig, I would suggest that not everyone on the Left qualifies for the epithet 'liberal': there are many who appear to tacitly condone all sorts of dictatorial behaviour as long as it is dressed up in 'anti-capitalist' or 'anti-imperialist' clothing. Therefore the bragaddacio of Putin, particularly with regards to the supposed 're-nationalisation' of major Russian industries and the imprisonment or harassment of the oligarchs, appeals to many Leftists who think that he is repealing the neo-liberal policies of the 90s. He is – but he is also turning the clock back to the pre-Gorbachev era. As you point out:

    'he has brought all significant media under state control, eliminated opposition parties through legal rulings of courts which are completely non-independent, ended freedom of assembly and is intolerant of minority views.'

  • writeon

    I was wondering, do we actually know that Alexander Litvenenko was murdered? We know he died because he was poisoned by radioactive polonium, but does that prove he was murdered?

    Litvenenko moved in dangerous company, was in financial difficulties, was under a great deal of pressure and appears to have been somewhat "unstable".

    I haven't followed this episode in great detail, but couldn't Litvenenko have poisoned himself because he was smuggling polonium or otherwise involved in distributing it?

    Why use something like polonium to poison a person? Not only is polonium highly toxic, it's also difficult to get hold of, and apparently, fantastically expensive. I've read that the ammount used to poison Litvenenko was worth a fortune. Also the stuff leaves a radioactive trail that's relatively easy to follow. Someone called it a detectives dream.

    Wouldn't it have been far simpler to just shoot him in the back of the head in the dead of night? Why bother to go to so much trouble to get rid of someone of such minor importance?

    On the other hand, the dramatic nature of his death has proven to be of collosal value in the propaganda war against Putin's Russia. So sacrificing a pawn to topple a king in the great game we're part of isn't such a bad bargain.

    Now, I haven't written this because I especially support Putin or his policies. I do not. However, I do think we want to install a regime in Russia that's prepared to bend to our interests, rather than pursue an independent course. I don't believe this is a particularly controversial view, surely it's what we do everywhere, we support those countries that bend to our will and interests and oppose those that don't.

  • hayate

    Where would Russia be now without Putin and those he is working with? Unpleasant as Putin is, what was an alternative that would have been better? I mean a serious alternative that could have achieved the independent moves Putin has, yet done so without being a hard arse. People seem to think Putin and his people are in complete control. I seriously doubt they are, though and if they did not compromise with the pre-existing oligarchic structure set up during Yeltsin's time, they would be in the middle of a massive civil war. Remember how Khodo was arrested? It was more like a military operation than a bust. That is because the oligarchs command private armies themselves as well as many corrupt government officials. Putin is hardly an enlightened leader in the eyes of most, but I would prefer him over garbage like Bush and Blair any day. And I would prefer the chaos of the Russian press to the organised, goebbelsian "big lies" of the conformist, ziofascist western corporate press as well.

    When Anna P. got murdered last year, I searched in vain for intelligent analysis (or even comment) in the western press. There was almost none to be found at all. It was all in one voice, completely uniform. Disgusted, I seached the English language Russian press and then started translating Russian language press as well. And I found multiple povs in the speculation of what happened encompassing all sorts of possible scenarios. There was no uniform voice and Putin or his government was among the suspects speculated about.

    Then the circus around the death of Litvinenko and the total western press uniformity in blaming Putin convinced me that the western press is far worse than the Russian press. In a way it is reversed from Soviet days when the Soviet press spoke with one voice while there were still oppositional povs allowed in the western corporate press.

    Laughland compared the western and Russian press after Anna P. was murdered and noticed much the same thing I did.

    Who Killed Anna Politkovskaya?

    After Putin's last "state of the union" address (whatever it is called), RIAN's English side had mostly articles critical of what Putin was proposing. I see a lot of Russian press article critical of the government and Putin in the Russian press, and I don't mean the Ameroisraeli/EU front organisations like The Moscow Times or Anna P.'s employer or Boris B.'s Kommersant, there are dozens of other western propaganda fronts operating in Russia as well.

    One interesting crackdown the Russian governemt made last year was on neo-nazis websites. Many were shut down or forced to remove the more offensive crap from their sites. The ones on servers outside of Russia, most were on American based servers and I believe the largest group of Russian neo-nazi sites all were part of an international outfit, controlled from the USA. The Russians couldn't shut down their severs, so hacked them instead. I could live with that sort of repression.

    Sites like this one:

    though, probably recieve less harassment from the Russian government than similar foreign based and staffed oppositional sites probably would in present day Britain and the USA.

  • johnf

    As this seems to be the "Russian Thread", does anyone have any reactions to this news from the Ukraine:

    >Ukraine rivals seek end to crisis

    >Mr Yushchenko has been battling his prime minister for months

    >A new round of crisis talks between Ukraine's feuding leaders is due to take place in the capital, Kiev.

    >Discussions on Friday between the two went late into the night but ended with no agreement.

    >The talks come amid reports several thousand interior ministry troops loyal to Mr Yushchenko are heading towards the capital.

    >A statement from the interior ministry said that the troops were acting in defiance of orders.

    .A later report said the troops had stopped moving, according to the AFP news agency.

    >None of the reports could be verified.

  • johnf

    This could be a very big stand off between Putin and the West. If it does turn into a civil war.

  • Craig


    Kommersant has now been taken over by the odious Alisher Usmanov, and is very much in the Putin camp.

    I really think you are very wrong if you think Putin is in any way significantly better than Blair or Bush. Just look at Chechnya, or his support for Karimov. He actually pioneered the "War on Terror" technique with Chechnya – Bush copied much of the blueprint from Putin.

  • johnf

    >If there was substantial unrest in the Ukraine would Russia find itself sucked in too? How would we react to a Russian intervention in the Ukraine?

    I always felt the very aggressive American/EU/NATO push into historic Russia was a deep and foolish mistake. Russia, for much of its history, has been a profoundly paranoid country. It needed time to digest the EUing of Poland and Czechoslovakia, to feel reassured that our intentions were not hostile, for trade to start filtering through into Russia. But that time was not given.

    On the world stage we now have two more profoundly paranoid countries, the US and Israel. I imagine the EU will be halfway sensible if there is a confrontation with the Russians over Ukraine, but with the Americans not only will there be the Republicans spoiling for a fight, but the Soros Democrats too. And who is actually ruling this country at the moment – Blair or Brown?

  • Craig

    By and large I am a believer in Western democracy. While working at the British Embassy in Warsaw in the mid-90s, I recall writing a paper saying that Ukraine was the swing state. Poland seemed, despite its schizoid tendencies, pretty safe, while Belarus seemed a dead loss. I thought it was 50/50 which way Ukraine would swing. It still is, I think.

    I very much welcome EU expansion, but I think NATO should have been wound up and causes much more trouble than benefit. It really did lose its raison d'etre with the end of the cold war, and is since largely a tool for dubious adventurism.

  • hayate

    "Kommersant has now been taken over by the odious Alisher Usmanov, and is very much in the Putin camp."

    Thanks for the info. I was not aware of the sale and had been going on the assumption Kommersant was still under Berezovsky's control or an ally of his. You do realise that completely blows your theory out of the water about the death of Safronov. Why would Usmanov have to kill him? All he would need to do is sack him. Better yet, not give him the assignment in the first place. Furthermore, if he is an ally of Putin, why tar Putin's/Russia's image by doing something so stupid as killing a reporter to suppress (or even more stupid, to send an openly blatant Al Capone like threat to other reporters that would certainly only worsen things) a story that is already been published and wont get suppressed at all and killing the guy only will attract much more attention to his work, the story and his murder. Only a total idiot would do that.

    Now it is fairly obvious Berezovsky had this reporter killed to make Putin/Russia look bad. Just as he had his former employee Politkovskaya murdered. He was also responsible for the murder of Paul Klebnikov and Vlad Listyev and probably many, many others. Berezovsky did not do these crimes in a vacuum, he had full western establishment support and backing (that means government, corporate leadership and media) for these crimes along with the other major crimes he has been involved in including the latest of the po-210 smuggling with Litvinenko that went all pear shaped ( I think we'll be finding out some very interesting information on that crime this Thursday, BTW). The cooperation within the western establishment of all these different elements in the Litvinenko and Politkovskaya PR campaigns, especially the near uniform media coverage would be a wet dream for the cartoon character "bad guy" Putin, as he is portrayed in the ziofascist, western corporate media. If Berezovsky did not have this support, he wouldn't be sitting pretty in the UK, able to play Al Capone/Kenny Lay with total impunity.

    "I really think you are very wrong if you think Putin is in any way significantly better than Blair or Bush."

    The difference is in several orders of magnitude. Just in Afghanistan and Iraq alone, Bush and Blair have managed to murder around 1,000,000 people as of now. Who knows how many those two have murdered by now in Africa in their quest to secure dominance of the energy supplies there. Even the wildest neo-con propaganda cant drum up any sort of similar genocidal tendencies in their damnation of Putin. I'd place the nastiness of Putin at a much more realistic level approximately akin to that of Chirac. I don't care much for either of these leaders nor much of their policies, but they are certainly far less monstrous that Bush and Blair. On another level, Bush/Blair and their people sit on the largest criminal drug empire this planet has ever known with the cocaine of Latin America under their almost exclusive control and the major source of heroin (Afghanistan) now back under their control. Poor Putin cant even sew up the vodka market.

    "Just look at Chechnya, or his support for Karimov."

    OK, let's look at those. The violence in Chechnya started during the Yeltsin regime, with full Ameroisraeli/EU support for Yelstsin during that time. The violence was much during Yeltsin's regime. Since Putin was elected, the violence has been going down and is nothing like it was during the western backed Yeltsin regime. That includes both terrorist and government actions. And it's reduced even faster since Basy (spelling) got neutralised last summer.

    The Karimov regime was worse during Yeltsin's time. Were not something like 2,000,000 Russians ethnically cleaned during that time? And again, who was sponsoring him? The Ameroisraeli/EU corporate establishment, naturally. Is the Karimov regime as abusive now as they were back then? No. Not even close. So again, we see the influence of Putin's government has had a calming effect and has reduced the repression and violence.

    "He actually pioneered the "War on Terror" technique with Chechnya – Bush copied much of the blueprint from Putin."

    Ah, no. Putin took Yeltsin's war and converted it to a police action. What Putin has done to reduce the violence in Chechnya does not even remotely resemble the war crimes Bush/Blair are committing in Afghanistan/Iraq. Putin caught his "Bin Laden", Bush/Blair need theirs safely hidden in his cave to provide propaganda for their never-ending wars. The way Ameroisraelia/Nato is making war on Afghanistan resembles the Soviet campaign there, what these war criminals are doing to Iraq is a repeat of their crimes against the people S.E. Asia last century. BTW, Chechnya was an extension of the Ameroisraeli/EU campaign against Afghanistan. It used some of the same insurgent leadership and assets (including Bin Laden and his organisation, BTW) in a campaign much like previous insurgent campaigns in S.E. Asia and Latin America using the Montenards, Moskitos, Humong (excuse the spelling – too lazy to check), etc. The strategy and tactics are almost identical. Get in with dissatisfied groups, stir up more dissent, encourage violent resistance and promise the people the world if they overthrow their government. Then supply weapons, direction and support the nastiest operators among them. The "colour revolutions" are a (mostly) non-violent, more sophisticated version of this strategy. The British harbouring of the terrorist associate of Litvinenko, Zachy (spelling), shows that Zachy worked for the western establishment.

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